Microsoft's Unlimited Potential effort makes progress

Microsoft is reporting progress on bringing programs and technology to underserved markets through its Unlimited Potential initiative.

In the six months since Microsoft announced Unlimited Potential, a company-wide plan to help bring technology skills and resources to developing countries to foster social and economic growth, it has been building programs and testing products around the world, said Will Poole, corporate vice president for the effort.

Poole was in New York Friday to discuss Unlimited Potential, a program through which the company works with community leaders in countries where technology has not yet had as much of an impact on businesses and communities as it could.

"If you look at the challenge of addressing the needs of [developing countries], it isn't going to be met by donations by Microsoft [and others], it's going to be met by people building a business to serve the needs," Poole said.

Analysts and observers have suggested another reason Microsoft is interested in working with emerging markets on technology efforts -- the fight against Linux, which is proving a less expensive and easier to access option for people in countries with scant access to technology. In its effort to make it a Windows world, Microsoft has recognized the need to foster education and business development to get software like Windows and Office in the hands of people who wouldn't typically be able to afford it, they said.

To do this, Microsoft is working with business leaders in countries to find the most viable business methods for bringing PCs to as many people as possible. Through this work, the company recently tweaked its FlexGo pay-as-you-go computing program it was piloting in Brazil with partner Telefonica to offer PCs on a subscription basis instead because it was a better fit for customers, Poole said.

"It depends on the dynamics of each market and the development of that market" what kind of business models work in that country, he said.

In fact, the new business model for PCs in Brazil grew out of work Microsoft had been doing in Mexico with telecom partner Telmex to offer PCs on a subscription basis as part of a bill for monthly Internet access and phone service, Poole said. That work was done through the Subscription Computing Program, which preceded the idea of linking Microsoft's global efforts under the Unlimited Potential umbrella, but has since been subsumed into that more focused effort.

"We use the 'Unlimited Potential' label to apply to ... things that have been going on for a number of years as well as new things," Poole said.

Microsoft also is making progress on its commitment to building 200 more Microsoft Innovation Centers -- aimed at helping local software communities develop skills and create jobs -- in 35 more countries by 2009. Innovation centers in Hungary and Romania have opened in the last six months, Poole said.

Another program that has been in place since 2004, Partners in Learning, is making progress as part of Unlimited Potential. Through the program, which promotes digital literacy for educators and hooks them up with one another to share best practices for teaching students about technology, Microsoft is sponsoring the Innovative Teachers Forum, which kicks off Monday in Helsinki. The forum brings together teachers worldwide who won regional prizes for sharing their methods to educate students about technology and promote digital literacy. Since its inception, the Partners in Learning program has trained nearly 3.5 million teachers and reach over 71 million students in 101 countries, Poole said.

Microsoft also is piloting other technologies around the world that were developed specifically to meet the needs of people in developing countries. One of those is Windows Multipoint, a technology that enables multiple users to use one PC simultaneously to collaborate through educational software programs.

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